Sqn Ldr ‘Kipper’ Herring DSO DFM
Graham ‘Kip’ Herring kindly submitted a letter written in 1987 by Max Riddell to Bob Kirby, who was researching background for his book on the Avro Manchester.   Max had flown as a tail gunner on Manchesters with Kip’s father, Sqn Ldr Kipper Herring DSO DFM.    Kipper had also flown Hampdens and, as was commonplace in the early days, new pilots used to gain experience on type by flying their first few operational trips as Second Pilots.   The first story recounted below relates to a Hampden raid on Kristiansand, a mission which was coincidentally, also the subject of an account entitled ‘Hampden Mission Report’ in the last but one edition of this newsletter.   The second story is an account of how Kipper brought a Manchester back from Berlin on one engine.    A feat which rightly earned him the DSO.
Kipper’s DFM Trip
I recall a slightly-built chap with a moustache.   Quietly spoken but with an air of confidence, he was very much respected, probably because of his efforts when he won his DFM on Hampdens.   The story, as I heard it, was that he was Second Pilot on Flt Lt D J Roger;s crew.    In the early days of Hampden operational training, an experienced pilot and WOp/Air Gunner would take with them on ops a new pilot and WOp A/G filling the positions of navigator and lower rear gunner respectively.    After half a dozen trips or so, the newcomers became a crew and took on other ‘seconds’.
Kipper, as Second Pilot/Nav, was in the lower nose of the Hampden, which was one of a box of six on a daylight raid.   They were attacked by Me 109 enemy fighters.    The Hampden had a blind spot on the beam which the guns could not traverse.    The enemy fighters soon cottoned on to this and invariably attacked from the beam.   The formation had to wheel in an attempt to give its gunners chance to fire at the attackers.    Evidently Kipper removed his single Vickers gun from the navigator’s position, took it up to the astro hatch, which he opened and sat up in.    Sitting from the waist up in
the slipstream, he jammed the but of the gun against the side of the hatch and, holding it steady in his arms, opened fire and got one of them.    The others broke off the attack.    Sounds all very simple, but to sit up in the slipstream and direct fire - shooting from the waist, as it were - with a gun firing 500 rounds per minute, unmounted and held only by the strength of his arms, which were quite badly burned through his clothing by the heat from the barrel, was a terrific feat.    He was completely unflappable!
Kipper’s DSO Trip
Despite the unique performance of the Manchester, against its reputation as an under-powered heap on two engines, let alone one, the trip was just one of quite a number of very rough trips.    The outward route was northeast to Flensburg, then a dogleg down over the Baltic to Berlin, crossing the coast somewhere between Lubeck and Rostock.    Flak was heavy over the target and we seemed to be getting our share of it.    Unlike the Hampden where everyone had a view, the navigator and the WOp in the Manchester were enclosed in the fuselage and had to rely on their senses, other than sight, for feedback and interpretation of that feedback.    Feedback such as unusual changes in aircraft attitude, changes in engine noise, sounds of the flak, whether near or far, and, of course, information over the intercom.   Conversation was kept to the essential, and remembering what was actually said is impossible.
We had dropped the bombs when we were hit and since it was the practice to run steady to bomb, we must have been hit either before or just after we resumed evasive action.    I think it must have been before, for if the engine had lost power suddenly, as it evidently did, when we were in an unusual attitude taking evasive action, I doubt if the aircraft could have been righted.
I would say that was when we lost a good deal of height, which had one good thing about it - we dropped out of the heavy barrage that was going on at the bombing height.    We were an experienced crew and all of us had, at one time or another, been in an aircraft that had been hit by flak and I don’t recall any suggestion of panic; more a hurried discussion and sorting out what the hell was happening.    The decision was to stick with the aircraft as long as it would fly.    In our predicament this meant taking the direct route home, right across the most heavily defended areas of Germany and across the Dutch section of the searchlight belt, which I seem to remember was some 20 to 30 miles deep at that point.
We were losing height progressively and proceeded to lighten the aircraft.    We had to restrict movement inside the fuselage in order to avoid upsetting the already critical trim of the aircraft, so making Kipper’s job more difficult.    Hallam stationed himself at the hatch and the others formed a chain forward and aft of him and passed to him everything detachable such as oxygen bottles, flares, etc.    Please bear in mind that the Nav and WOp were kept pretty busy at their own jobs and could only take part in lightening in between getting and plotting bearings, sending situation reports and emergency signals.
I believe Smithy did find time to get rid of the bombsight.    Those guns that could be detached were got rid of, since the hydraulics were out of action and guns were a needless luxury.    The main thing which sustained us, or at least myself, was that we were getting nearer home all the time, with a good chance, at the worst, of ditching.    As time went on, there was a good chance, if we had to ditch, of putting down within pick-up distance of our own coast.    So you can imagine our thoughts after landing at West Raynham when we inspected the aircraft saw a big rectangular hole on the top of the wing.    This was the dinghy stowage.    Unbeknown to us, the flak had activated the impact switch that normally release the dinghy on ditching and some Gerry air raid warden in the Berlin area was probably scratching his head and wondering where the hell an inflated rubber raft had come from.